Prisoners on an island.
In 2011, I set off on a mammoth trip to photograph wildlife, people and landscapes in over 10 different countries. My adventure started in the tropical paradise of Sri Lanka and finished in the humid misty rainforests of Borneo.
My main objective was to capture images of the stunning range of wildlife found in these countries. Not only in the jungles but also in urban environment’s which are slowly swallowing up the natural landscapes all around the world.
Not all of my photography experiences were positive. When I was traveling in South East Asia I started to come across the illegal pet trade, especially primates.
Seeing them in the wild in all there spender is magical but seeing them chained and caged up for the benefit of the owners saddened and frustrated me.
The first location I came across monkeys was on an island off the cost of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. I spent a week on this beautiful island, then the island was in the slow transformation from fishing village to international tourist destination.
Young boy swims in the warm waters on a island in Cambodia. Whilst his father sets the nets for another nights fishing.
Whilst I was relaxing on this island recovering from a badly infected foot, after a diving accident, I slowly got to know some of the locals and was invited into their homes. I explained I was a photographer from England and was excited to photograph as much wildlife as possible. I also explained my passion for mammals and monkeys.
I asked if any monkeys lived on the island in the thick jungles behind their homes. One local took me into his house and showed me small dusty area under his house. In this location there was a mass of human waste from plastic containers to unwanted food. Here I saw two monkey both chained up by their necks. One was a big female and the other was younger money with an arm missing.
Young Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis)
The monkeys were Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Once common in Cambodia these Macaques currently suffer heavy hunting pressure for use in the vivisection trade. The monkeys were left to feed on rotten fruit and vegetables. I was told they were caught in a large net which are cast into the trees to catch monkeys and birds and that’s how the smallest monkey lost it arm.
After seeing these monkeys I went on two treks through the jungle to try and find any in wild after an hour or in the sweltering heat I gave up and headed back to the village without spotting any.
The smaller of the two would get extremely nervous and flip out of control when approached by the owners of the house. A right wire traces was constantly around its neck and it seemed as the money had lost its mind it was displaying extremely unusual behavior.
I visited these monkeys to photograph them on two occasions and each time I felt upset. I had seen and photographed long tailed macaques in the wild before and seem them scurrying from tree to tree and foraging for food is a beautiful sight. So to see these two beautiful monkeys chained up was a sight sight. The people who kept these animal captive in these extremely bad conditions didn’t see any wrong doing in this. They thought the animals were happy and glad to be there.
I left the island wondering what would happen to the monkeys especially with the rapid building which was taking place. It’s a shame to see animals treated so bad and it made me think how many other monkeys were being kept in such dire conditions.
Chained to a tire.
On my travels I have come across some heart breaking images of animals being treated badly and none more so than this monkey in the images. I was travelling up through Vietnam when I booked into a guest house in a place called Nha Trang which is a coastal city and capital of Khánh Hòa Province, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. I was spending three days there with my girl friend and her brother and we booked into a guest house.
The guest house was family run by two brothers, as we were booking in I could see a small shape through some frosted glass which was moving around. I asked one of the brother what is was and he smiled and slowly opened the door. In front of me was a young macaque monkey chained to a tire. I never seen such a scared and upset animal in my life. I quizzed one of the brothers about the monkey asking where he got it etc. I was told it was stolen from an island in Vietnam by casting a net into the trees at night. I’m pretty sure it would be monkey island which is near Hay long Bay in the north of Vietnam.
These animals are sold on the black market across Vietnam and much of South East Asia. After watching the monkey for a while it was clear that this monkey had been ill treated buy the owners. At one point he started spraying the monkey with a hose pipe which sent him into a fit almost.
I was really affected by this and every day I would buy fresh fruit for the monkey which he would eat very quickly as I think he was fed on scraps which were left over from the dinner etc. After leaving this Hna Trang and travelling up the coast I would often think about this poor monkey trapped and chained by its neck on a small outdoor area by the side of this quest house I wonder what it was thinking and how unhappy he was.
I did speak to the brother when I left and asked them if they thought the monkey was happy. There response was of course why wouldn’t he be.
It’s not for me to judge the brothers Vietnam as it is a world away from England and things work differently in different parts of the world, but I judge how they treated him and how they couldn’t see how un happy this animal was, just to keep them entertained.
It’s a shame to see such a beautiful young animal held against its will in poor conditions, I love seeing macaques in the wild swinging from tree to tree, seeing a animal like this is really heart breaking.
Traditional Sea fishing in the Indian Ocean
This year we decided to have a more relaxed holiday and instead of backpacking around the humid jungles and cities of south East Asia or the baron and ancient vistas of Iceland. We decided on an all inclusive two week break on the island of Mauritius.
At the last minute I decided to pack my camera equipment and did some quick research on the wildlife I could expect to encounter on this small and beautiful island.
I told my partner in Advance I wouldn't spend my time chasing bugs and wildlife all over the island to take photos , I would just sit by the pool all day and drink cocktails and maybe do a couple of day trips...
...Each morning we'd awake and I would drink a coffee from our balcony and look out to the horizon and see five or six tiny one or two person fishing boats dotted about on the horizon.
Setting off early in the morning from Belle Mar Beach.
One fisherman would arrive on his small old fashioned motorbike each morning at 7:15 on the dot! He would then pack a small amount assembled of items on to his small white boat before slowly dispersing off to the edge of the lagoon where his boat would be a tiny dot. The reef separated the flat lagoon from eastbound turbulent seas which would throw up huge crashing waves each day.
Dhramdeo Meetooa and his fathers have fished the Indian ocean for hundreds of years.
At 11:00 am his beat up white boat would arrive back on the shore and he would cast off his Clement block a anchor into the clear blue shallows. He would slowly get off the old boat and pack his catch into a small blue plastic container, greet some locals and finally ride off down the beach on his bike.
After a week of staying in the resort, I was sat having a beer on my balcony and I saw the small white fishing boat returning from a morning at sea. I quickly grabbed my camera with my 24-105mm lens and ran down to the beach. I waded out slowly out to my waste in the water keeping my equipment above my head as not to get it wet. I asked if I could please take some photos of him and some of the fish he had caught. He smiled and nooded and held up two octopuses and let me photograph them.
Two Octopus caught from one of his 7 cages.
Slowly in a conversation of broken English with lots of gesturing with our hands we started to talk about his catch and how much in Mauritian rupees he would earn for these octopuses. He kindly explained each octopus could fetch around 200 rupees each, so both together would be 400 or so rupees depending on who would buy them in the local market. In UK pounds this would be 8 pounds. He explained octopus was a good catch and didn't happen that often. We talked for a few more minutes which was quite hard as the language barrier was proving frustrating. Quite unexpectedly he asked if I would like to spend the next morning out with him whilst he caught his fish and I could photograph him at work.
It takes great skill to navigate the dangerous reefs on Belle Mar
He explained that he would set 6 houses which translated were cages, the night before and the following day he would seek them out and pull them aboard and see if the gods had been kind to him.
I immediately responded yes and asked how much he would charge for this amazing opportunity. He responded " You tell me". I was stumped for a few seconds then worked out that if he had made 400 rupees for the two octopus then if I offered 500 rupees his day was covered and anything extra he caught would be a bonus.
Searching for one of his cages on the bottom of the reef.
That number was put forward and he agreed. We arranged to meet by his boat on the beach at 7:15 and he told me his name was Dhramdeo Meetooa. The next morning under a brilliant sunrise I sat on the beach waiting with my camera equipment for Dhramedo to arrive. As on previous days, dead on 7:15am he arrived on his old bike. After we greeted each other we quickly boarded his white boat and pushed off from the shallows and headed out to deeper water.
Balance is key when using a small fishing boat at sea.
Dhramedo had a long pole to propel the boat forward almost like how gondolas are used in Venice. How he found his cages used a great amount of skill and intelligence as the sea to me looked completely disorientating and it all looked the same. He managed to navigate across reefs and sand bars to the exact spot the cages were with ease and speed.
Collecting a cage from the ocean floor.
Once at the location he lowered another pole with a hook into the water and slowly pulled up a cage and lifted it aboard his boat. Some cages were almost empty and other cages contained fish of all different color and shapes. Some of the fish I recognised like the Threadfin butterflyfish, Moorish Idol and the Sergeant Major Fish.
A Moorish Idol fish is just one of the many colourful fish caught in his cage.
The bait in the cages ranged from part of an octopus which was extremely smelly and looked like black paste to dead fish. He explained that octopus paste is the best bait possible. He also used bright green weed which small fish fed on.
Using part of an octopus as bait is a proven way to catch fish.
It was interesting to see all the bait used was organic and from the sea so it cost nothing it was recycling at its best. Towards the end of the fishing trip Dhramedo spoted a shell inside the cage, pulled it out and smashed it on the wooden seat of his boat and a huge hermit crab which was brightly color appeared! He quickly stabbed it on a long metal pole and put it back in the cage for bait. I later found out the name for this crab is a Strawberry hermit crab. After collecting the 8 cages we returned to the beach and we said our goodbyes and shook hands It was a fantastic experience to spend a morning traditionally fishing with a local. Finally I asked if I could buy him a gift from the UK and send to him to say thank you. His response was a Liverpool football shirt in Extra large.
Navigating the ocean through landmarks and reefs.
After his morning at sea Dhramedo would make the short journey back to his family. He would spend the afternoon working with his wife in a small plantation growing garlic which she would sell at the local market. Dhramedo was 60 years old and had a wife and two children. Both of his sons worked locally in hotels nearby. Dhramedo came from a family of fishermen as his father had taught him to fish and navigate the sea.
A moment to reflect.
This experience showed me that a fisherman can catch enough food for his family to eat and enough to sell to the market to make extra money. It wasn’t fishing on a huge scale where the seas are plundered and Unsustainable fishing is damaging fish stocks and the environment. its sustainable fishing on a small scale whereby the fisherman understands the environment and respects it and it has been that way for hundreds of years.
Dhramdeo Meetooa a masterful fisherman.